🧗 Scaling Digital Transformation: World Wide Technology CFO/COO, Tom Strunk
[Editor’s Note] This month we are fortunate to have EBH Advisor, Tom Strunk, join us for our Q&A series. Tom is the CFO & COO of World Wide Technology, one of the world’s leading companies in digital transformation. The company provides a combination of strategy and execution to “help organizations accelerate growth and realize a brighter future.” Tom has been a key executive from the very beginning helping take the company from its infancy to $14B+ in annual revenue over his tenure of 27 years (and counting!).
[MV] Many people I talk to about WWT are surprised to learn that such a massive tech company is based in St. Louis and not Silicon Valley, yet I counter that being a tech company is less about location and more about mentality -- having a software-first mindset. How has being based outside of SV informed how you all approach business?
[TS] I think the last couple of years have put to bed the idea that a business needs to be located in a particular city or geography to be innovative or successful. Businesses need to be tapped into new or emerging markets or risk falling behind. Today’s workforce is mobile and that's having an impact on how companies view their physical operations. For years, we’ve gotten questions about not being located in Silicon Valley, to the point where we even developed a marketing slogan of WWT being Silicon Valley in St. Louis. Our customers and partners who haven’t experienced our culture or capabilities firsthand tend to be blown away by what we can accomplish when they see it in action. As you mentioned, it’s more of a mindset. And our Midwestern roots give us a mindset of grit and determination, and a culture that champions our people and embraces change. This culture has helped propel us to where we are today, and we’re laser focused on maintaining and nurturing our culture as we grow.
[MV] While we obviously operate at far different scale there is a similar ethos between WWT and EBH in blurring the lines between the digital and physical. Are there key learnings for tech enablement that can be applied across most businesses no matter the size?
[TS] WWT has worked with thousands of customers over our 30-plus-year history – from emerging startups to mid-sized organizations to giant Fortune 100 companies. Many, if not all, of our customers are chasing after digital transformation, but as you know, digital transformation can go only as far as your IT infrastructure will allow. We've learned digital transformation and IT modernization thrive in the convergence of six distinct points:
Not all companies think this way. Many recognize the importance of bringing physical and digital together but need help doing it. Others may have a loose understanding of how to execute a strategy but struggle to see it through. Regardless, the ambitions of our customers to transform digitally depends almost exclusively on understanding the connections between Business & Technology, Strategy & Execution and the Physical & Digital.
[MV] Is there a particular customer or case study that you like to point to as a prime example for tech transformation? How did you all advise and work with them to achieve this transformation?
[TS] There are so many wonderful stories to count, but one that stands out is some recent work we did with Elanco Animal Health, a global company that provides those who raise and care for animals with products and services in more than 90 countries to improve the health of animals, people and the planet. They were in the process of spinning out from their old parent company and needed to build a modern, elastic IT infrastructure from scratch that could scale and meet the needs of their evolving industry. The engagement involved nearly every part of our business and truly illustrated how digital transformation is not just a technology conversation, but a process that demands the right mix of technology, people, capabilities and areas of expertise.
Our work with Elanco underscored the value of our Advanced Technology Center (ATC). This was a customer that needed a solution — or in their case, series of solutions — to work seamlessly on day one, no questions asked — failing to do so would have risked billions of dollars. The ATC proved invaluable in developing, testing and validating the right mix of technologies that provided Elanco a foundational IT platform for future productivity and growth — and it did so in a fraction of the time it would have taken to do it independently.
Our ATC labs are a part of our broader ATC Platform, a strategic resource we've made available to customers and partners to combat the challenges associated with digital or tech transformation. Effectively, it's a technology playground that mitigates the risk inherent in solving complex business challenges with even more complex technology solutions.
[MV] The challenge and opportunity with technology is that it is constantly evolving, never stagnant. How does that inform the way you advise and work with your customers?
[TS] It’s interesting because we created our ATC over a decade ago to address the very same problem our customers face today — the pace of change in the technology landscape is often too fast to tackle on your own. Along the way — as we invested hundreds of millions of dollars in technology infrastructure and gained buy-in from our world-class technology partners — we increased our appreciation and understanding of how technology interoperates and integrates with a broad range of network architectures and how it can work in different ways to create unique business outcomes. And the ATC has morphed into an industry-leading tool organizations lean on to accelerate decision making, upskill or learn, mitigate risk, and generally conquer the speed and complexity of technology.
[MV] From our experience, even companies within the same industry have very different needs. How does WWT adapt to the needs of the customer given that there can't be a one size fits all approach?
[TS] True transformation takes ambition, expertise and delivery power, but also a collaborative approach. Some of our greatest work grew out of a simple conversation in which we listened to the needs of our customers and began thinking creatively to solve the problem together. The listening part can get lost in the shuffle sometimes, but it’s integral to process. As your question indicated, even customers in the same industry can have very different needs depending on where they are on the transformation journey. By listening to understand, we familiarize ourselves with our customers’ business and tailor a solution or solutions to what they need. Sometimes what they need isn’t necessarily what they entered the conversation thinking about. By listening first, we’re able to better entrench our experts in our customers’ business environment to think about how we can tackle their unique challenge and avoid a one-size-fits-all approach.
[MV] On the surface, tech transformation seems expensive and risky. I suspect that you get that pushback a lot from prospective customers. How are you able to get companies past those fears or roadblocks?
[TS] No doubt that transformation can be expensive and risky, but the reality is for most companies, transformation isn’t an option, it’s imperative. Doing nothing risks disruption and even obsolescence. We've found the single greatest success or failure point of any transformation is the misalignment of business and technology leadership. And the larger the organization, the wider the gap and more critical that alignment usually becomes.
When we get the business and technology teams on the same page, it’s amazing the momentum that builds behind them as they’re operating from the same playbook. From there our process and experts take over in partnership with our customers. We listen to understand the desired outcomes, put a roadmap together, de-risk the decisions by leveraging the ATC, and ultimately we craft and implement a solution or series of solutions to drive the expected outcomes.
[MV] Culture is something I know you take very seriously at WWT. What has helped you all build a strong culture and how have you been able to maintain it as you scaled the company to over 8,000 people and $14B+ in revenue?
[TS] The key for us has been being intentional about our culture and holding each other accountable — from the highest levels of our organization all the way down to the new team members we bring on. When you're a small operation, you can often feel the culture just by getting out of your office and walking around. But as companies grow, culture becomes harder to maintain if you aren’t very intentional about it. We were fortunate to realize this early on and began documenting what we liked about our culture and leadership philosophies. After a certain period of time, we amassed a small library of artifacts and tethered them together to form our Integrated Management and Leadership (IML) program, a framework we created from scratch by studying the strengths of our own culture and those of other successful companies we admire. We intentionally use IML to scale our culture globally and cultivate great leaders and employees who feel inspired, safe and valued. We purposefully use IML every single day — literally, every day — as the foundation for how we treat people and how we run our business. Our IML represents a massive investment that stretches our entire organization, and we dedicate time and resources annually to train our leaders and discuss IML concepts with all employees and biennially bring thousands of leaders together under one roof to grow and learn together.
[MV] It's easy to talk about things that have gone well. Talk to us about a challenge you all had to endure or mistake you made with the benefit of hindsight.
[TS] You don’t make it this long in business without encountering challenges, and after 28 years with WWT there are too many challenges and mistakes to single out just one. But what applies across any obstacle you encounter — and this is true across business or your personal life — is how you persevere, learn and move forward. Our IML framework, which I mentioned earlier, helps establish and scale our culture, but it also doubles as a playbook for overcoming various challenges in the workplace. Part of our IML is our 8 Key Business Concepts, which includes embracing difficult conversations. Personally, that’s where I’ve seen myself grow the most over the years — that management trait and skill to have a difficult conversation. We specifically coach and teach our team members about the importance of this skill as we’ve found the most effective team members and leaders can have a difficult conversation and deliver it with empathy, and follow it up after the fact by responding in positive manner.
[MV] You’ve had an incredible tenure at WWT. What continues to keep you excited about going to work every day?
[TS] This one is simple. It’s the people. I love who I work with and how we collectively care about our mission to make WWT a profitable growth company that is also a great place to work for all.
[MV] This was amazing. Thank you for providing your insight Tom!
[TS] My pleasure. Thanks Mark!